Law 5 – The Referee: The border to virtue-signalling lunacy didn’t crumble (yet)

Italy’s Pierlugi Collina, Roberto Rosetti, Nicola Rizzoli and their fellow committee members finally arrived at the choice of Italy’s Daniele Orsato to handle Qatar vs. Ecuador, the opening game of World Cup 2022. A quite sound choice, Orsato is an extremely experienced and excellent referee who will be able to handle the heat of the Arab-Latin American tie and surely deliver a great performance. But he was chosen after a MD-2 which certainly bordered on the farcical and surreal, and featured a very special FIFA version of ‘musical chairs’. 

Forever Italians Get Chosen?

I’m sure that I speak for the majority of the blog community when saying that I was really concerned upon learning that Stéphanie Frappart was amongst the candidates to handle the inaugaration match of the World Cup – one friend commented that it would constitute a “spit in the face” of all other refs, and most definitely it would have been a spit in the face of meritocracy in Qatar – at the very earliest point possible as well. In seeing off the Infantino threat on this issue, Pierluigi Collina held his nerve and for that we should be very thankful. 

Instead of a very 2022 FIFA story, we actually got a very old one about their internal politics and machinations. Daniele Orsato did not go to bed the-night-before-last expecting to referee Sunday’s opening game, but the three Italians (no other association has more than one member on the referees committee) used their influence in order to see FIGC’s trio on the match. To be clear: Collina didn’t impose either Rosetti or Rizzoli into the FIFA boardroom. Rosetti is there as UEFA no.1, the same for Rizzoli at CONCACAF, the same for all confederation’s leaders. But: I’m not sure it leaves the best taste in the mouth either. 
FIFA picked a perfect image of Orsato’s typical mimics/facial expressions

Qatar were not a fun side to officiate at both Copa América 2019 and Gold Cup 2021, and highly-rated refs (even one World Cup attendee) were quite in trouble handling this combative team. There are better games for Stéphanie Frappart than one whose difficulty will probably be around the same area when Qatar face a team from the Americas in the opening game. By contrast, Orsato should be well-suited. FIFA already trusted Daniele Orsato to handle a vaguely similar match in the past (Honduras vs. Australia). And his vast experience in controlling many passionate Serie A matches will definitely come in handy too.

Orsato was never a natural athlete-type referee, he always worked very hard to keep up with play, but ever since UEFA EURO 2020, it wasn’t just me who had the feeling that the Italian was actually succeeding in his matches despite his physical condition, rather than thanks to it. Indeed, his performance in the Real Madrid vs. Manchester City semifinal for which Rosetti hurried him back for was far from faultless – but against the background of his injury, it was remarkably good! If FIFA want to display that this will be a tournament of many ‘play on calls’, then I suppose they did choose their top man… 🙂

Joking aside, Orsato showed that he can still be at the top in this regard (POLSWE), or sharply in the other direction (ESPPOL) – or somewhere inbetween (Paris vs. Bayern 2021). The Italian joins Victor Miguel de Freitas Gomes in being describable as a ‘no-nonsense referee’, and presents a quite particular style of officiating – a true natural. I will certainly miss Orsato when he is gone. Besides 1994 and 2006, where FIFA wanted to ‘set the tone’ in terms of not only quality but style, I don’t think FIFA really tried to make a point about how the whole tournament will be officiated in the guy they chose to referee match one. If they had wanted to this time, I agree with Chefren’s choice that Slavko Vinčić would have been the optimal choice. He even gave the optimal rendition for this in Australia vs. Peru where his performance was even explicitly praised by the New Zealand coach as “very good”. But not to be!

Assuming that there are aren’t an exaggerated number of play on calls: I’m sure that Orsato will do well on Sunday.

Somebody didn’t get their free drinks yesterday
I think the comments on the blog criticising the press conference yesterday were too harsh – at least some of the criticism. It is important to remember that ‘we’ are >0.0001% of the people who will consume this World Cup, so explaining what for us are the absolute basics is not something to chastise FIFA for, but rather praise them. If people don’t want to listen, then that is their choice. Indeed, I found it quite positive even. Though Collina’s role in the past was performed by people like Villar, Erzik, David Will and Busacca’s by García-Aranda, Vautrot and Casarin – it seems clear to me that the bald Italian has his hand on the tiller and is the guy running the show. World Cup 2018 was much, much better than the catastrophicly-bad Brazil 2014 under the Swiss’s charge, and we can hope that the improvement continues this time. The comical diving carte blanche of Russia ’18 seems to have been erased, as one example. 

That being said, the whole conference was not really short of a running joke, and was an absolutely exercise embarrasing for FIFA. Clips that nobody saw, the microphones that didn’t work, Collina’s stumbling answer to the Daily Mail journalist about female referees to Arab/Persian nation’s games – and that isn’t even mentioning the empty chair and complete absense of any mention about whom would control the opening game. Even in 2002, a World Cup which was chaotic from the start and they also had big trouble in determining who would ref game one (committee had to sit a second time the next day as the first meeting ended in arguments), they could find two officials to sit in the presser and answer questions. 

A for effort, F for execution in Qatar. The whole thing was only ‘saved’ from my perspective by the lovely (not funny, but lovely!) interaction between Pierluigi Collina and Eduardo Iturralde González, the long-time former LaLiga and Spanish Premier Category official who is in Qatar as a journalist to cover the tournament. There was real human, genuine warmth to the Italian’s reply to him – it put a huge smile on my face. (Good luck to Iturralde for a great World Cup from us at Law 5! :)). And finally, as if we needed a reminder this week that citizen journalism is fast exceeding the quality of traditional media outlets, the often-inane questions of the assembled journalists, versus the simply fantastic work of the whole Arbitro Internacional team (link) – always ahead of FIFA.

Keep up the brilliant work, Carlos and co!

“We’re going to need a bigger boat video operations room!”

Finally, a couple of observations about the Pierlugi Collina podcast with Gabriele Marcotti, to which I listened in full while commuting to/from London yesterday:

Too many cooks spoil the broth, goes the English idiom. To this effect (not), FIFA have added a tenth official to the roster of the matches, whose role is named Stand-by (Offside) Assistant Video Assistant Referee. Right… 

The interesting thing: this role was only created in the shenanigans about whether Frappart shouldn’t get the opening game. The podcast with Marcotti was recorded on Monday 7th November, and Collina explained explicitly that there would be four officials as part of the VAR crews. But now we have five nominated. I am not taking part in the official predictions game, and good luck to those who are(!), but if there was an oppotunity to predict who would be SBAVAR (the alphabet people… :P): I reckon that a New York-born chemical analyst will discharge this role for Match 64. 

– I genuinely warm to Pierluigi Collina. To me, he seems like a person with genuine integrity and I trust him as a referee manager. That being said, he has this habit of reflexively reaching for the ultimate politician’s answer as a seemingly modus operandi. Example: Marcotti asked him about the ‘confederational neutrality’ aspect, and observed that it often came to Mexican officials in the past to handle the big UEFA vs. CONMEBOL clashes as they were more experienced than other CAF/AFC/CONCACAF colleagues. A very good observation! Instead of acknowledging this, and then stating that those days are past now, and so on, Collina interrupted Marcotti and went on talking about “quality” being the only aspect, blah blah blah. It was such a boring answer to a question which didn’t require it.

I understand the sensitivities of his role, and even more one can appreciate that you are much more guarded when speaking in not your native language (multi-lingual tennis journalist Chris Bowers noted this about Federer too, quite interestingly). But maybe it also says something slightly ‘deeper’ too – and perhaps offers an insight into the mindset of the referee who masterfully managed to posit himself as ‘the best referee of all-time’.

To bring this post back around: if he arrests the virtue-signalling demands of the politicians (it is Infantino especially by the way) and more widely, manages to deliver excellent officiating in Qatar, then I’d be easily ready to agree – he is the best ever!

Qatar 2022 will be the second World Cup of VAR technology

We wish all readers an enjoyable FIFA World Cup 2022 and invite you to have Law 5 as part of the experience – predictions game, analysis posts, discussion (and often linking to Arbitro Internacional tweets :)). Chefren and I hope you can join us for what we hope will be a great tournament – also for the blog! 

Law 5 – The Referee: The border to virtue-signalling lunacy didn’t crumble (yet)

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